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Religious Identity and Descriptive Representation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 August 2016

Walter Schmidt*
Brigham Young University-Idaho
Matthew R. Miles*
Brigham Young University-Idaho
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Walter Schmidt, Department of Political Science, Brigham Young University-Idaho, 525 S. Center Street, Rexburg, ID 83462-2160. E-mail:; or to: Matthew R. Miles, Department of Political ScienceBrigham Young University-Idaho, 525 S. Center Street, Rexburg, ID 83462-2160. E-mail:
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Walter Schmidt, Department of Political Science, Brigham Young University-Idaho, 525 S. Center Street, Rexburg, ID 83462-2160. E-mail:; or to: Matthew R. Miles, Department of Political ScienceBrigham Young University-Idaho, 525 S. Center Street, Rexburg, ID 83462-2160. E-mail:


Drawing on the descriptive representation literature, we argue that religious identity is a social identity similar to gender or race, which leads a person to feel represented by someone who shares their religious identity. We argue that religious identity motivates approbation for public officials that is distinct from partisanship. We find that constituents who share the religious identity of their congressional representatives are significantly more likely to approve of their representative's performance in office. In addition, those who share a religious identity with President Obama are more trusting of him; particularly among those for whom religion is important. Finally, we find that shared religious identity moderates the relationship between partisanship and trust in the President. All else equal, Republicans who share a religious identity with President Obama are 500% more likely to trust him than a Republican who does not.

Copyright © Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association 2016 

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We would like to thank Paul Djupe, Marcus Schmidt, and three anonymous reviewers for their feedback on this manuscript. A previous version of this article was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association (2015) which would not have been possible without the generous support of the Thomas E. Ricks fund for mentored student research.



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